By Doug Stern
I may have attended the only IdeaFestival session where the heart was tugged as much as the brain was stimulated.
For an hour, thanks to IF and New York City writer-filmmaker Cynthia Lowen, festival goers were invited to look at the bullies in and around us – in our homes, work places, capitals and, especially, in our schools. We got a quick overview of the causes and consequences of childhood bullying, a handful of possible solutions and a bunch of What If’s.
The subject came naturally to Ms. Lowen, who grew up shy, fearful of other kids and bullied in Amherst, Mass. She told us how she stayed safe and survived by mucking stable stalls and keeping company with horses – where, as she put it, “I wouldn’t draw attention to myself.”
She went from survivor to advocate in the spring of 2009. That was when two chronically-bullied 11-year-olds took their own lives, shocking the nation and inspiring Ms. Lowen into action.
The result was an award-winning film – “Bully.”
Co-directed by Ms. Lowen and Lee Hirsch, the documentary follows five bullied children, their families and classmates for a school year in the Sioux City, Iowa, Community School District. Ms. Lowen shared a couple of long clips from her film during her IF session that focused on one her subjects, Alex, and how those around him struggled to make sense of something so senseless.
Ms. Lowen’s appearance at Louisville’s IF coincided with the publication this month of a book on which she collaborated. “The Essential Guide to Bullying Prevention and Intervention” amplifies the themes in the film and offers educators and parents some tools to understand and combat bullying.
I left Ms. Lowen’s presentation with more, big questions about bullying than answers.
I wonder what it is about us and these issues now that has grabbed our attention. I wonder whether the norms of civility have shifted so much that we feel we have license to act out in ways that we wouldn’t have imagined a generation ago. I wonder how much a steady, Nightly News diet of belligerent worldwide leadership or corporate callousness has affected us.
Stimulating questions, however, is the whole purpose of Idea Festival, isn’t it? Which may be why, my wife reminded me, it’s not called the Solutions Festival.
About Doug Stern: Doug Stern is a Louisville-based freelance writer. Contact him at 502-459-2966 or doug(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)doug-stern.com.